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Muni to try quicker boarding scheme in latest effort to meet elusive performance goals

SF Public Press
 — Jun 28 2012 - 11:28am

Clipper Card readers placed in the back of Muni buses long ago will finally get more use starting July 1.

Transit officials are gearing up for all-door boarding throughout this system, which will reduce travel times, speed up loading on Muni buses and generate more fare revenue, said Muni spokesman Paul Rose.

Muni will become the first bus and light-rail system in the country to have all-door boarding for its entire system.

“That’s something many of our riders want and deserve,” Rose said.

Currently, Muni riders are — in theory — allowed to board only in the front of the bus, but can board at any door on the light-rail vehicles as long as riders tag their Clipper Cards or have proof of payment, such as a 90-minute paper transfer.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors had to change the transportation code.

“The queuing up in the front door and boarding process is a significant time delay, which slows down the Muni system,” said Ed Reiskin, director of transportation.

According to National Transit Database numbers from 2010, San Francisco had an average of more than 65 boardings per hour per vehicle compared with other major cities such as New York (62 boardings per hour) and Honolulu (52 boardings per hour).

For years, Muni riders have been boarding at the back doors of buses with and without proof of payment, ignoring signs posted on rear doors of Muni buses that read: “Stop! Enter Through the Front Door Only.”

The transit agency hopes to reduce the number of free riders by adding more fare inspectors. The 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 two-year budget approved in April included hiring 10 additional fare inspectors, which will cost the agency $900,000.

A staff report from the transit agency said the additional fare inspectors could bring in $200,000 in fare citations annually and could add $4 million in fare revenue due to both higher ridership and more Muni riders paying their fares. 

If caught by one of the 36 transit fare inspectors without proof of payment, Muni riders will be socked with a $100 fine, 50 times the cost of an adult fare. Fare inspectors issued 11,855 fare evasion citations between October and December of 2011. 

The philosophy is to get our staffing just to a level where anybody riding the transit system at any time has a reasonable expectation that they’ll be asked to prove they paid their fare,” said Reiskin.

Muni officials are also working on creating pictorial decals to put on the backdoors to explain to riders who can board the back of the bus.

Data will be collected before and after implementation to gauge improvement in boarding times at busy stops, said Jason Lee, project manager of the all-boarding system. 

The San Francisco Transit Riders Union, a grassroots organization aimed at improving transportation in the city, has pushed for all-door boarding.

We believe that it will improve reliability of service, make trips faster, reduce overcrowding and save Muni money that can be reinvested into more and better service,” said Mario Tanev, a member of the Transit Riders Union and coordinator for the all-door boarding campaign. 

“We think Muni’s riders will appreciate the improvements that will stem from all-door boarding,” said Tanev. All-door boarding is one of several improvements Muni officials are working on to provide more reliable service and meet a city goal of being 85 percent on time, which the transit agency has never met. The Transit Effectiveness Project, a blueprint to overhaul some of the busiest Muni lines, includes plans to reduce stops, and provide traffic signal priority for buses and transit-only lanes at busy intersections.

Those changes will not take place until fall 2013, according to the transit agency.

Read more local news in the San Francisco Public Press Summer 2012 print edition, on sale at retail outlets around San Francisco and online.